Paulie Malignaggi's Picks: High-risk Wallin could upset Joshua and leave Warren sitting pretty

My first reaction when Anthony Joshua-Otto Wallin was announced for December 23 was about how dangerous a fight it is for Joshua, because of the apprehension he’s showed in his two fights since his two defeats by Oleksandr Usyk.

Wallin’s difficult to look good against. He also comes to win, and can be unorthodox. Joshua, by comparison, has looked fragile psychologically. Whether it’s because of the millions he’s made or the number of fights he’s had, he’s changed as a fighter – which happens to most fighters, eventually. Against that, Wallin looks dangerous.

Given the quality of Tyson Fury’s performances since he struggled in victory against Wallin in 2018, Wallin’s performance that night has aged well. Fury sometimes performs to the level of his opponent – he lacked urgency against Wallin – but Wallin took advantage of that.

Joshua hasn’t impressed in a long time, even though he’s won his past two fights, against Robert Helenius and Jermaine Franklin. We can’t even be sure whether, at this stage of his career, he’s still capable of impressing.

It’s interesting that for this one fight he’ll be working under Ben Davison, and not Derrick James. He’s previously looked like he’s been overthinking, both mid-fight and in his career – it’s not easy being such a high-profile, polarising character. 

Paulie Malignaggi's Picks: High-risk Wallin could upset Joshua and leave Warren sitting pretty
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Given we’re told Joshua plans to return to James for his following fight, it’s possible that he’s over-thought his circumstances before deciding to work with Davison. It’s also possible he’s working with Davison to save money – and that he doesn’t see Wallin as dangerous – and for convenience, instead of investing in relocating to work with James in Texas. This will be Davison’s second attempt at preparing a fighter for Wallin, after Fury; even if Fury didn’t look good, Davison – a good technical trainer – should have learned from that night, which could prove valuable to Joshua. 

It’s even possible Joshua’s angling for a future fight with Fury, and sees Davison’s insight into Fury as valuable. Whether he wants Fury or Deontay Wilder next, Wallin, a dangerous southpaw, won’t help Joshua to prepare.

It was Frank Warren, the biggest rival to Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn, who put that fight together. Matchroom have already lost Saul “Canelo” Alvarez to PBC, and while Katie Taylor revived her career by beating Chantelle Cameron, Taylor’s still probably nearing the end – even though she and Joshua are Matchroom’s biggest fighters.

Warren is a wily old fox. Like Don King and Bob Arum, he’s been around for a long time – promoters with their experience, for better or worse, have the ability to play three or four moves ahead. Hearn’s also no slouch, but in the chess game outside of the ring, given how risky this fight could prove for Joshua, Warren’s looking very intelligent. 

Also on December 23 in Riyadh, Wilder fights Joseph Parker. Wilder is the favourite, but Parker’s an experienced, intelligent fighter. He’s not the fighter he was, and Wilder can knock out anyone with his right hand, but he’s strategic enough to test someone with Wilder’s defensive vulnerabilities if he can back him up.